How do I even fit?
May 9, 2016 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I've decided to work towards a UK Mountain Leader qualification, but first I need to get in shape. How... do I do that?

Many moons ago I used to do a fair amount of hillwalking and camping here in Scotland, but it was all part of organised groups. Now I think I want to lead groups. I've decided that I want to work towards gaining a Mountain Leader qualification, which is a national award that trains you to lead groups in the UK mountains in summer conditions.

However, as I'm getting back into hillwalking and trying to do it more regularly, it's become clear to me that my stamina, strength and overall fitness needs a bit of work. Well, a lot of work. I can climb hills fine, but I tire quickly, I get shaky and slow down way too much on steep ascents and I'm stiff as a board for 2 or 3 days after 8-10 mile walks.

However, I'm historically rubbish at planning and then sticking to fitness regimes. I also hate treadmills. I've got a kettlebell I bought ages ago on a previous failed fitness regime attempt and I've tried the 100 Pressups and Couch to 5K programs before and in both cases got about a third of the way through them before work and frankly laziness stopped me. The only thing I've managed to really stick before has been regular swimming, because I don't find it tedious.

I'd like to lose some weight, build leg strength and lung capacity and get stronger, but I'm just at a loss as to where to start, really. I don't really care about getting buff, I just want to get to the tops of hills and be able to carry the weight for 3-4 day trips without my lungs catching fire.

Take it as a given that I'm planning to get out on hilltops as much as I can (going from an 8-10 mile walk every 4 or 5 weeks to more like every week or two, as well as longer walks as soon as I can organise them).

If you've gotten trail fit, or fit for an outdoors career or outdoors training, how did you do it? Did you find a plan or cobble your own together? What mix of activities might work for what I want to achieve? And if there are any qualified MLs who are also Mefites I'd love to hear from you.
posted by Happy Dave to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Luckily, walking is an easy thing to get back into. You don't have to go hill climbing every day, but get out on your feet for long-ish, fast-ish walks every day. Most of what you're building on are your lung capacity and heart rate, which come back quite quickly. Find as many inclines as you can, speed-walk (or even run) as much as you can, and your stamina should build up in not very much time at all.
posted by xingcat at 6:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There was a similar question a few weeks ago, and I think consensus was that the best way to get better at hiking/hillwalking is to do it.

I went from "occasional hiker who tends to slow down the group" to "able to do back-to-back-to-back 10-mile hikes with thousands of feet of elevation gain/loss" by getting out and hiking every single weekend. I had a goal hike, which made it easier - for me it was the Tour du Mont Blanc (100 miles hut-to-hut around Mont Blanc). I did the hike in early July and started ramping up my hiking in winter.

I definitely did 8-10 miles every weekend, and would often do two 8-10 mile hikes, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Sometimes these were boring out-and-back hikes. I don't think I ever did the exact same hike twice in a weekend, but I came close. There were a few hikes I did like 10 times that spring, because they were reasonably challenging, not out-and-back (my least favorite kind of hike) and not too long of a drive from my home. I also started hiking with a heavier pack (just full of water and/or extra guidebooks).

I also tried to do short after-work hikes whenever possible (fortunately I lived in a hilly area at the time), and would very occasionally spend my lunch break on the elliptical or stairmaster in the gym at the university where I worked - I ordinarily HATE exercising indoors, but with my goal in mind it was less horrible.

Oh, and I tracked my hiking with a GPS sport watch. It was fun to see my progress and to see how my close-to-home weekend hikes matched up to various days on the TMB.
posted by mskyle at 7:05 AM on May 9, 2016

Best answer: Just a small point, I save up "errands" that are a reasonable brisk walk away. Helps to have an excuse to charge off for a cube of butter that's a kilometer each way sometimes than always just going for a walk. Just one small element but it seems to add up.
posted by sammyo at 7:33 AM on May 9, 2016

Response by poster: I'm liking that the answer seems to be 'do more of the thing you love doing anyway'.

I'm already walking about 3 miles per day to and from work, so I've got a decent baseline of physical activity. I guess I was wondering if there was additional strength or endurance training that might be beneficial. mskyle - thanks for that link, I'd missed that there was a similar question.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: During your daily 3 mile walk see how many minutes it takes, and try and shave off a minute or two from your average.

Carry a bit of weight when you're doing your walk to and from work. Not sure how much your hillwalking/camping backpack weighs, but maybe start with 1/3 of that weight on your daily walk and work up to the full pack weight.
posted by gregr at 7:54 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was training - admittedly not very seriously - for a hill run last year and didn't have much time to get into the hills, I used to go off and do five or ten minutes at a time walking up and down the steep flights of stairs at my office. I think even those short bursts helped. Was definitely nice to get away from my desk, anyway, if not as lovely as a few hours in the Pentlands would have been!
posted by penguin pie at 8:21 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To get fit, follow the advice you've been given: do more of the activity you want to do. Training is specific, so the more you hike, the better at it you'll become, as long as you allow sufficient recovery time. You want workouts that challenge you but don't leave you utterly shattered, and you want to gradually increase distance and intensity (but ideally, not both at the same time). Daily walking is great; that can serve as recovery. If you can do 2-3 hikes a week - a longer one on the weekend and a couple of short, faster ones during the week, that would be more effective than just one weekend hike. REI's advice for training to through-hike a long trail is worth a read.

Trail running, or run-walking, might also be good, but be aware that running puts much more stress on connective tissue than walking, so if you do that, ease into it.

To lose weight, on the other hand, might require calorie counting. Weight loss is 80% about eating less and at most 20% due to exercise. I was cycling 75-150 miles per week in 2011 and 2012 and I managed to gain a bit of weight. I lost 65 pounds in 2013 and 2014 by continuing to exercise but, more importantly, counting calories (I used MyFitnessPal) and ensuring a consistent calorie deficit.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:27 AM on May 9, 2016

Best answer: If motivation is an issue you could try making it into a game - challenging yourself to hit certain levels. Various apps help here - e.g. Charity Miles, The Walk, CoachMe or by using a tracker like a FitBit.

Also, there's games like Ingress where you have to walk in the real world to find virtual stuff - I play and find I walk a lot more than I would otherwise.
posted by Stark at 8:39 AM on May 9, 2016

Best answer: I saw this on UKC about a month ago; it looks like part of the qualification is all about clocking up miles and experience doing the kind of stuff that you'd have to do on the job – taking out parties / groups, logging it all afterwards. I suppose, if it helps, that you might want to think about 'getting fit' as part of this component of the assessment – if you're actively involved in going out and covering a lot of terrain with other people on a regular basis, then not only will you be shaping up, you'll also be earning the kind of mileage that you'll require for that part of the qualification. So perhaps try to see your 'training' or 'fitness' activities not as a sort of prerequisite or barrier before you start the ML programme, but rather as something that you're going to be building up as you go further into pursuing the qualification. [Anecdotally, according to Jim Perrin's biography of him, Don Whillans, the rock climber and mountaineer, got fit for his Himalayan attempts with Chris Bonington on Annapurna only by way of the two-week walk-in].
posted by Joeruckus at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great answers. I've marked them all as useful because they all are. Feeling much more motivated now. I think a lot of the mental barriers are just that - thinking 'I can't go and climb a hill on a random Wednesday evening' when of course I can. If there's one thing we're not short of in Edinburgh, it's hills.

Thanks again.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:50 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes! Arthur's Seat is your friend. I've met people on top who were training for bigger treks by going up and down the steep way several times in a row! (As I smugly pointed to Leith and told them I'd run all the way from there, omitting to mention just how much of the final half mile I'd spent walking bent double out of breath going up the steps!)
posted by penguin pie at 6:17 AM on May 11, 2016

Response by poster: Minor progress report - I've been on two walks since posting this question, an 8 miler in heavy fog along the main Pentland ridge and a 12 miler this past Sunday in beautiful sunshine, from Hillend all the way to Balerno. I got sunburnt, but the main thing to note from the perspective of this thread was that my recovery time basically halved.

After my first walk, I was sore and stiff for 2-3 days afterward, and just generally feeling a bit weak and exhausted. By contrast, yesterday I was totally fine after a sleep with only a bit of residual soreness in my calves, even though it was 30% more distance. The sunburn sucked, but I was really pleasantly surprised at how quickly I recovered in terms of strength and stamina.

So if you come across this question in the future - these people answering are legit. To get hiking fit, hike more!
posted by Happy Dave at 3:09 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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